I'm Disappointed in America: Friday Night Tykes

It’s Super Bowl Sunday, which means they’ll be great plays, big hits, trash talk and ultimately a team crowned the champions of the National Football League. Throughout the game and days following, we’ll watch highlights of all the action, commentary from former greats, coaches and journalists, but someone will invariably ask, “How did these players get to this point”? The answer can be found on the Esquire Network, where “Friday Night Tykes” airs the untold story of youth football, by documenting five Texas teams in their eight and nine year old rookie division.

That’s the key to this entire series; these kids are eight and nine, no older than your babies in the other room right now. However, the coaches talk and inspire these kids like grown men. Curses routinely fly out of their mouths and violence is always a sentence away, but winning never strays far from the conversation. When I was that age, it was all about learning the game, developing the skills to make you into a player. It was about fun.

Football is big business in Texas, second to oil by many estimations, it’s a culture that thrives from the little league up to the Dallas Cowboys. In fact, of the nearly 1,700 players in the NFL, there were 172 from Texas, second only to California’s 216. That answers the first question to come to mind when watching the show, yes, it’s that serious. But it’s not as serious as these coaches and parents make it out to be, arguing, spying, running the score up and I imagine fighting when the cameras aren’t rolling. The hopes and dreams of so many are being wrapped into the ability of kids who can’t possibly carry the weight of expectations being placed on their shoulders. One scene I watched last night found a mother on the sideline mimicking the drills her son participated in, then questioning his heart and ability as he began to struggle through parts of the practice. Her rational, “If I can do it, why can’t he,” disregarding the fact that his mind and body may not be capable of achieving what the coaches are calling for at the moment.

Let me say this, I grew up in youth sports, so I’m thankful for every man and woman who committed their time to me and the thousands of kids who came through the ranks with me. However, the coaches on “Friday Night Tykes” have gone a step or two beyond normal, carrying on as if they’re auditioning for gigs at the University of Texas or the Dallas Cowboys. The premium is placed on winning, winning big and hitting hard, not gathering the fundamentals. At least that’s not what’s being broadcast. I’m sure there are weeks of practice cut out, where the basics were being taught, long before Jr. Rockets played the Colts and pride of the coaches was tested. But that’s not what we see. We’re shown coaches telling these kids to knock the other players on their ass, score touchdowns as the clock winds down in a blowout in an effort to humiliate their opponent.

In other words, we’re watching the training of young men who’ll grow up to respect nothing but aggression, being trained into football machines whose directives are big-time college football or bust. History tells us a few of these kids will become some of the most sought-after recruits in the nation, a couple may make the NFL and one may become a star, but far too many will miss out on the requisite skills needed to succeed as men. This show, this culture, needs to be examined for the potential damage it may cause to a community, to a generation. The vicarious dreams of being the next Adrian Peterson and RGIII are being passed from coach and parent to child, creating dreams some of these kids don’t even accept and manifest in long runs and hard hits at an age when these kids are still trying to learn their times tables.

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